What does it mean when a jury is “sequestered”?

A “sequestered” jury is one that is kept together in a private location separate from their homes or workplaces during part or all of a trial. Most jury trials do not involve a sequestered jury.

Sequestering a jury is often done for reasons of privacy or to prevent the jury’s decision from being based on media coverage or the opinions of the public in a high-profile case. During jury instructions in most cases, jurors are told that they must decide the case based only on the information they learned during the trial. Jurors who decide a case based on information they gathered from any source outside the courtroom may be accused of committing juror misconduct, which may lead to a new trial. Sequestering the jury makes it harder for jurors to have their minds swayed by outside information. It reduces pressure on jurors to vote a certain way, and it helps prevent harassment, threats, or actual violence from non-jurors who want to influence the outcome of the case.

Many jurors worry about being placed on a sequestered jury when they show up for jury service. Although sequestration is rare, juries that are sequestered sometimes find that the psychological stress of being isolated from family and friends and the feeling of pressure to decide the case outweigh the benefits of being able to focus on the evidence presented in court. Also, some research indicates that sequestered juries will rarely represent a true cross-section of the community because many people cannot serve on a sequestered jury due to work or family duties – single parents, for example, cannot leave their children home alone while the jury is sequestered.

Once a jury is sequestered, it must meet several strict rules imposed to prevent jurors from being “tainted” by outside evidence or opinions. For instance, jurors who need to use the bathroom may be escorted by a bailiff or U.S. marshal. Most courts forbid sequestered jurors from making or receiving phone calls, or will only allow them if a bailiff, U.S. marshal, or other court official listens in to ensure that the case is not discussed in any way. Jurors will often be expected to eat and sleep in the same locations and will be transported to and from the courthouse, if necessary, as a group.

Sequestration is more common in criminal cases than in civil cases. In most criminal trials, the jury is not sequestered until after jurors have been chosen, often not until the jury begins to deliberate. In civil cases that use sequestered juries, sequestration is not required during the trial itself, but begins when the jury has heard all the evidence and starts to deliberate.

Either the plaintiff or defendant in a civil or criminal trial may request that the jury be sequestered. What the court must do with this request depends on the court rules. In most states, no juries are required to be sequestered, but the parties may ask for sequestration, and the judge may decide whether or not to sequester the jury for part or all of the trial. Some states only require sequestration if either the plaintiff or the defendant asks for it. A few states require a jury to be sequestered in some kinds of cases, but let the judge decide whether or not to sequester the jury in others.

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